This past year was the first that I was able to remain involved with the TPM team through the full year. A project that had previously been five weeks and a couple of fundraisers to me became a major part of my life. There were many highs and lows throughout the year, days that brought me to tears, days that I would run into an office with great news to share, and days with so many mixed emotions. Many of these emotions were sparked by iPhone pictures sent from a colleague living on the campus in Malawi.
When projects began, buildings were constructed, ‘poop trees’ grew, the campus continued to evolve and I would receive pictures to my phone. When we arrived last year I was prepared for a brand new campus; however, this year I thought I knew exactly what I was arriving to. With all of the picture updates I saw through the year I mistakenly thought I was very prepared to arrive on the campus this week. As we got off the bus and I walked towards the two newest buildings, a radio station and a house for the field director, I was astounded with the constructions. The pictures on my phone screen did not do it justice. The radio station was at least twice the size I thought it was. The new home was more beautiful than I had imagined.
As someone who has already been to Malawi twice and lived on the campus for five weeks, I thought I knew exactly what these pictures looked like in reality. The realization of how underwhelming the pictures actually were (no offence to the photographer) made me realize how I may be portraying TPM to others in Canada. When I look at a picture of the TPM Community Center I automatically picture the tuck shop to the left, the beautiful mural on the sidewall, the imposing tree behind where chiefs gather in the shade, the gardens in front, children playing on the porch, committees meeting inside, and the striking sun rising from behind. When I show that same picture to someone who has not had the opportunity to visit our campus, what do they see? A plain brick building and wonder why I get so excited? Going from iPhone pictures to reality this year has made me rethink the pictures I use when showing others what TPM is, what they stand for, what they have done, and what they plan to accomplish. How can I (and other TPM members) take pictures that will show everyone else what I see when I look at a picture of a seemingly plain brick building?
It is the first official full day at The Campus. Everyone is slowly waking up under the miles and miles of sky (under our beautiful roof of course). I awoke to the quiet bustle of the women that have been hired to clean the hostel. It is surprisingly pleasant to wake up to sweeping. I am currently sitting on the red soil that covers all of the grounds, and filled in my shoes. I am sitting under a small summer hut that has been made for us. It looks a bit like a gazebo. After my walk around The Campus this morning, I began to reflect on our arrival to the new Campus.
I did not try very hard after our many days of travel to keep my eyes open on the bus ride to The Campus, but when I did open my eyes I found merchants coming up to the side of the bus selling apples. Many people watched as we drove by and some waved to us with big smiles on their faces. I fell asleep again and I woke up as we were driving onto The Campus. As we drove down the red dirt road, packed into the bus with our suitcases, we could see that there were already people on The Campus awaiting our arrival. As we pulled in near the door, the women began to sing for us. I was tremendously moved by this and held in my emotions as we exited the bus. Coming off of the bus we were showered in hugs and handshakes from the people that we will be working with for the next five weeks. After our initial hellos we began to unpack the bus. A line of women, as well as our students began to take the bags in from the bus; however the women were very persistent on carrying the bags. This was the first moment of uncertainty that I had. I was unsure of the etiquette in this situation. Was I being rude if I did not help, or was I taking a job away that they are being paid? I am still not completely certain, but we found a way for everyone to participate last night and I am sure we will find ways again when they arise.
Once we got settled in, we noticed that there were a lot of children standing around with us so we brought out a ball to play with. The boys quickly ran with Marten to the soccer pitch and the girls played by throwing the ball to each other. As we began playing with the girls we decided to try a name game. We shared many laughs as we tried to speak their names and they tried to speak ours. It will be a lot of work to remember the names of everyone, but I am really hoping that I can remember at least a handful. The children only learn to speak English once they start grade three, so only the older children speak English. This lead to a lot of silly following-the-leader happening. I got to dance around and have all of them copy me while laughing at our silly actions. I even got them to do the chicken dance, and they thought it was hilarious. We played until the sun went down and we had to go inside. Before the children left, everyone got hugs and high fives and said many ‘see you tomorrows’.
One of the main goals that we discussed before we left for Malawi was bringing this new Campus to life. When we arrived, as we were welcomed onto The Campus with smiles and laughter, it felt alive. Even after the two days of travel to come here, we were all excited to play with the children and take a look around The Campus. Last night felt like the first moment of life that I am sure will continue on in the next five weeks, and hopefully after we leave.
When we pulled up to the house we now call home in Makupo village, we were greeted by all the members of the community who were waiting outside of the hostel singing and clapping with the biggest smiles on their faces. It was a strange feeling as everyone hugged us and asked our names. I’m still not quite sure what the emotion was but it was definitely overwhelming. This feeling stuck with me for the rest of the night but when I woke up to the sound of the women’s voices in the kitchen, singing and laughing, I couldn’t help but smile. I have never been an early riser but the sound of their voices made me excited for the adventures the day would bring. I now spend most of my mornings journaling and creating a checklist of what needs to be accomplished that day. As I hear others starting to wander into the common room, I leave the warmth of my sleeping bag to join them all for breakfast and coffee and start the day.
Today, Themba, one of the co-learners, gave us a language lesson. I am still having some difficulties with the pronunciation. In regards to this, all the kids find it hilarious when I speak with them in Chichewa, but they are the best motivation as I want to be able to communicate with them.
When we visited the campus, it was nothing like I had expected; it was better. The land has been untouched except for two buildings: the Standard One (Grade 1) classroom and the teacher’s house, both a work in progress. When I first walked into the classroom, even with the unfinished floor, I started to imagine all the ways the classroom could be set up. As we walked back from the campus, a wave of excitement poured out of me and I couldn’t wait to start working on the Standard Two curriculum.
Over the past few days, I have gotten to know the members of the community. Getting to know the village members of Makupo has given me a better understanding of their needs and hopes for the future of Praxis Malawi. This is helpful to us in developing curriculum for the Standard Two classroom as we are better able to understand the importance of subjects and skills that can help lead to a healthy and successful life style.